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Pablo Haspel’s Appeal on Disqualification from Presidential Race Denied

In his report to the Student Government Council - Modesto A. Maidique Campus Senate, Supreme Court Chief Justice Sebastian Larrazabal informed that Pablo Haspel, Student Government Council - Biscayne Bay Campus President, had appealed his disqualification from the 2013 presidential race for the SGC-MMC. The court unanimously ruled that the disqualification was valid pursuant to the Student Government Association Constitution, Section 2 E in Article VII, which established that a student must be registered during both the Fall and Spring semesters at the campus in which they intend to run.

The ruling leaves Lianne Sippin as the effectively university administration appointed candidate, following the removal of Alex Castro by Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Lunsford.

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False Claims Discovered in Interim Vice President of Student Affairs’ Email to University Community

Following the release of a position statement by the FIUnite party regarding the implementation of an old version of the Student Government Council - Modesto A. Maidique Campus Elections Code, Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Lunsford sent out an email reaffirming the Department of Campus Life’s role in the incident, and adding claims as to why the SGC-MMC Elections Board was right to disregard the Statutes and Student Government Association Constitution, and enforce an old version of the Elections Code. Pawlitics conducted an investigation into these claims and found several to be false and based on wrong information.

As previously reported, Lunsford includes several assertions that cannot be corroborated, such as an alleged requirement in the SGA Constitution for changes of the Elections Code to be sent to his office for approval. 

However, it wasn’t until Pawlitics made a public records request to the FIU Office of General Counsel on April 1, 2013, requesting any emails that verified Lunsford’s claims that “requests have been made for the final version approved by the SGA… but it has not been provided to Student Affairs,” that the extent of the false information was uncovered. Instead of the emails, we received a response on April 4, 2013, indicating that General Counsel had been advised that there “are no responsive documents.” This implies that in saying that the Division of Student Affairs had requested, and presumably followed the as-of-yet to be discovered provision in the SGA Constitution and university policies of questionable legality, the interim VPSA was providing false information to the FIU community. Student Affairs never requested the documents, and therefore never received them.

The false allegations add another issue to the already complex matter of the university’s involvement in the SGA’s internal affairs, and come to light after Lunsford intervened once again in the SGA elections process, this time to overturn a court decision, and effectively remove the ticket of current SGC-MMC Vice President Alex Castro and Andres Hermida from the presidential race. 

These false claims add proof to the argument from opponents of the university’s active involvement in the SGA’s internal procedures that the rules which give Campus Life, the university administration and the FIU Board of Trustees the power to intervene have never been enforced, raising questions as to why they are being enforced now, particularly when their enforcement has led to the disqualification of the first presidential candidate to publicly oppose the university’s intervention in SGA’s affairs. 

With Senate legislation subject to Campus Life Advisers control, Supreme Court decisions constantly overturned through a process not provided for in any law, and Student Body Presidents being appointed instead of elected, FIU’s administration has succesfully established itself as one willing to do, and say anything to ensure its control over SGA and its $16 million budget, effectively silencing all those who questions its actions.

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BREAKING: Interim VPSA Lunsford removes Castro Hermida ticket

For the second year in a row, Florida International University’s Student Government Association will have an administration appointed President, as interim Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Lunsford, in an extralegal decision with no statutory backing, has intervened in the disqualification of FIUnited candidate Alex Castro, and the subsequent reinstatement by the Student Government Council - Modesto A. Maidique Campus Supreme Court. In a letter drafted in response to an appeal submitted by the Elections Board and the Elections Commissioner Charles Peretti, Lunsford analyses what he says are the issues of the case, focusing only on whether both candidates had to submit individual applications, concluding that the initial decision of the Elections Board should stand. This follow a string of events where university administrators are controlling the internal procedures of the SGA.

In the letter, Lunsford indicates that because of the requirements set forth in the SGC-MMC Elections Code for candidates, “the logical conclusion is that the President/Vice President ticket requires each of its candidates to qualify by submitting individual applications.” He then provides reasons for which he understands the rule is in place. This is relevant since Castro’s initial disqualification was due to the fact that Philip Koening, his running mate, did not file a separate application.

The statement concludes with the citing of the provision in the Elections Code which allows candidates in a Presidential/Vice Presidential ticket to name a replacement candidate should one of them not qualify, be disqualified or is removed from the ballot. Lunsford argues that the emphasis should be on the phrase “If, after the closing of the application period…”, but fails to explain how that shaped his decision to overturn the court.

In an ironic and perhaps blatantly false statement, the letter finishes with a note indicating that the decision was not taken lightly, and was in respect to the SGA elections process, despite running afoul of the Elections Code, and any other SGA statute.

What leads Lunsford to believe that he has the authority to overturn a ruling by the Supreme Court lies in rules and regulations established by the Florida Board of Governors and FIU Board of Trustees, which rely on Statutes repealed by the legislature in 2004. This would render his decision unlawful and without standing, but barring a Supreme Court and more importantly an Elections Board that is willing to follow the SGC-MMC Statutes as written, the decision will be rendered as valid. Given the fact that the appeal was submitted by Peretti, it is clear the Elections Board will surrender the SGA’s authority to university administrators in contravention of SGA’s statutes, the SGA Constitution and Florida’s Statutes.

The only remaining alternative for the Alex Castro and his now disqualified running mate Andres Hermida is to appeal to the Florida Board of Governors, which in the past has only reaffirmed FIU’s intervention in SGA’s internal procedures, and should that fail, seek remedy through the court system of state of Florida. At the moment of publication it is unclear if Castro and Hermida will pursue this.

With this action, the 2013-2014 school year will be the second in a row where the Student Body of FIU is deprived the right to elect their President, with the administration actively involving themselves, practically picking a replacement, in this case, being Lianne Sippin the only standing candidate in the presidential race.

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BREAKING: Elections Board Appeals Supreme Court verdict on Castro Disqualification

After initially submitting to the Student Government Council - Modesto A. Maidique Campus Supreme Court’s judgement, the Elections Board led by Elections Commissioner Charles Peretti is now seeking an appeal on the case regarding their disqualification of FIUnite presidential candidate Alex Castro. Seeking an extralegal remedy outside the procedures established by SGC-MMC’s Statutes or the Student Government Association Constitution, the Elections Board sent an request for an appeal to the Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Lunsford, despite there being no law providing for this recourse.

The move presumably follows the infamous example set by administration appointed SGC-MMC President Laura Fariñas, who won fraudulent elections which were vacated by the Supreme Court. Fariñas’ campaign submitted a request for an appeal, which was granted by then VPSA Rosa Jones, who intervened despite there being no legal justification for the action, and proceeded to appoint Fariñas as President.

Whether Lunsford will intervene in this case is yet to be determined, a fact which could fundamentally alter the 2013 Presidential race, turning it from a contested election, to a one candidate affair, guaranteeing Lianne Sippin the presidency.

The request for appeal is based on allegations of the Supreme Court ignoring the Statutes and ruling beyond their jurisdiction, and upon allegations of Castro lying about submitting a joint application last year with Fariñas. The documents reference attached proof of applications dating from as far back as 2005 claiming they show separate applications, in addition to a statement from former Presidential candidate and SGC-MMC Senator for the College of Education Samir Patel, who indicated he had filed a separate application from his running mate. 

The issue, if considered however, will most likely rest on whether the opinion of the Elections Board that by then Castro’s running mate, Philip Koening, not submitting a separate application, the ticket never existed is a valid one, or if the Court was correct in their assessment, that despite the lack of Koenig’s application, the ticket was constituted, and Castro remained as a qualified candidate after Koenig’s disqualification. 

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Division of Student Affairs validates Campus Life power grab

Following the move by the Department of Campus Life to enact new policies which give it and its advisers absolute control over the affairs of the Student Government Association and its agencies, and a position statement from the newly formed FIUnite party, the Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Lunsford released a response to the FIU community, sent to deans, the party, and other university leaders, in which it validated the move by Campus Life, and rebutting the claims from students that the policies and university intervention in SGA’s internal affairs was contrary to law. 

In the email, Lunsford claims that the review of the legislative history and reading of the law as provided in the statement “does not tell the whole story.” He then goes on to claim that the cited changes in law “merely deleted a provision in the statute that a member of the BOT could request a review of a procedure that was disapproved by a university president.” There is no mention of the explanatory note in the legislature’s website which says “The School Code rewrite bill, Senate Bill 20-E, codified as ch. 2002-387, does not provide for university presidents to have approval authority over internal procedures of university student organizations; s. 229.0082 was repealed by s. 1058, ch. 2002-387.” 

The email includes allegations that the Florida Board of Governors provides clear guidance for universities overseeing student governments, citing BOG Regulation 6.014(5), despite the fact that nothing in Florida’s Statutes authorizes the BOG to develop regulations regarding student governments, which states that the “board of trustees or its designees as deemed appropriate by the board of trustees” shall approve student government internal procedures upon adoption. That same regulation includes provisions mandating that student governments operate within university rules and regulations. Lunsford states that as interim VPSA, he is charged with the responsibility of overseeing student activities, including the SGA, and approving SGA’s internal procedures, taking the requirement of Board of Trustees approval a step further, and leaving it up to him to also approve SGA’s rules.

The response also alleges that, despite the recent flurry of administrator’s interventions, FIU rarely exercises its broad authority over SGA.

Regarding the topic of the Elections Code, and which version of the law should be implemented, Lunsford states that it is correct that the old version of the law, last established by the Student Democracy Act of 2010 is the one being implemented, because he alleges “no final version of the Elections Code Reformation Act of 2012 approved by the SGA Senate and signed by the SGA MMC President, as is required by student government’s own Constitution, has been provided to the Vice President for Student Affairs for approval.” However, there is no provision requiring SGA to send its Statutes amendments, or Elections Code changes to the VPSA for approval. 

Lunsford also states that he has “been advised that the Elections Code Reformation Act is currently missing.” Yet, in October of 2012, Pawlitics was able to request, and receive, all of the Elections Code Reformation Acts bills as approved by the Senate. Then Director of Governmental Relations Dean Williams was able to send the documents after they were requested, including all bills that had been approved, and the ones awaiting the SGA President’s signature. Whether somehow the documents were lost since that period is unclear. 

Because of these allegations, the interim VPSA claims that the SDA of 2010 had to be followed instead of the new law. 

Despite all the claims in the email, questions still remain regarding the involvement of the administration in the internal affairs of the Student Government Association. It is not clear how the officials involved believe the BOG can provide for a power the legislature removed. In addition, there has been no evidence that any of the SGA’s procedures or law have ever been approved by the Board of Trustees, or the VPSA. In addition, the response as submitted makes no mention of which part of the SGA Constitution requires the VPSA’s approval of bills or elections code changes, and only does so for constitutional amendments. 

Overall the response represents a doubling down on behalf of the FIU administration of the actions of the Department of Campus Life and its interim Director, Jose Toscano, which as previously reported, has a history of seeking total control of the SGA. 

The email also represents a challenge to the credibility of Lunsford as an impartial university ombudsman, position he holds after his interim promotion. Given his direct oversight over the Department of Campus Life, and his involvement in this move to rein in SGA towards the absolute control of university officials, his standing as a neutral entity that could help students in this matter can be directly compromised.

It remains to be seen whether the President of the university, the Board of Trustees or the Board of Governors will intervene in this affair, although if history is to be taken into account, any intervention on their behalf would most likely be another confirmation of the already provided interpretation of the law, and acceptance of the standing BOG regulations, even if they go against the legislative intent under ch. 2002-387.

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Alex Castro reinstated as candidate; Sippin to look for running mate

After being disqualified from the 2013 Student Government Association Presidential race by the Elections Board, Alex Castro has been reinstated by the Student Government Council - Modesto A. Maidique Campus Supreme Court. Castro’s disqualification was based off the fact that his running mate, Philip Koenig, did not submit a separate application. The Elections Board claimed this was a necessary requirement, despite not being enforced in past elections. Ultimately, the court agreed with the fact that a separate application was needed, although it is unclear based on what law they based their ruling, a point made by Castro, and by the Coalition of Students for Reform in an amicus curiae submitted to the court. Pawlitics is a Coalition of Students for Reform project.

A decision is expected to be released in the coming days. Nevertheless, the court did reverse the board’s disqualification of the entire ticket, and have allowed Castro to name a replacement candidate.

On Friday, March 29, 2013, Castro released a video with Philip Koenig in which they announce the ruling, and that Castro will be running with Alex Hermida, who was the original campaign manager. Koenig will now assume that role.

The Elections Board had also disqualified Pablo Haspel, due to the fact that his major was not based at the Modesto A. Maidique Campus. Both Castro and Haspel appealed to the Elections Board, and were both denied. Only Castro appealed to the Supreme Court. Haspel’s running mate, Lianne Sippin, still remains as a viable candidate, and is expected to refile as a presidential candidate with an as of yet unnamed running mate.

With the court’s ruling, the danger of there being no presidential candidate, and potentially no SGC-MMC President for the 2013-2014 school year has been avoided for now. What was also at one point thought to be an uncontested race, now looks to be a heated one, with the powers of the SGA at stake, with the university administration looking to consolidate power over the government, with no opposition from its current appointed President Laura Fariñas.

Once the decision of the court is released, we will update this story with all the details.

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UPDATE: Campus Life Advisers to control Senate Legislation

UPDATED With Speaker Castro’s response

Campus Life advisers Jose Toscano and Michele Castro are continuing their power grab over the Student Government Association’s internal affairs, now requiring that all legislation be submitted to them before it can be considered in the Senate floor, in violation of the Florida Legislature’s intent, which in 2002, removed the administration’s power to have oversight over student organizations’ internal procedures.

Student Government Council - Modesto A. Maidique Campus Senate Speaker Giovanni Castro has notified all Senators of the new requirement, indicating the advisers will not allow him to place any piece of legislation on the agenda, without their consent. 

The advisers are using as excuse for the move, the alleged neglect of the Senate to follow up on approved appropriations.

The timing of this move is of notice, since on March 22, a “Resolution In Support of the Elections Code Reformation Act of 2012 as the Lawful Elections Code of the MMC Student Government" (page 2) was filed. The resolution expressed the Senate’s support of the Elections Code Reformation Act of 2012 as the true elections code of the SGC-MMC, along with their understanding that Official University Policy 105.005 and Campus Life Policies affording the Department of Campus Life with the authority to make all final decisions for SGA, documents that are the source of the decision to not implement the ECRA, are inconsistent with state law.

The move by the advisers follows the pattern of limiting the SGA’s powers, and leaves no doubt as to the intentions of the administration, which is now on the record as supporting these moves. If held to be true, the question of the legitimacy and purpose of a Student Government Association is raised, since in essence, all decisions will now be made by university officials, with the SGA having meetings with no consequence. Another issue at stake, is the power SGA has over the Activity & Service Fee budget, which according to Section 1009.24 of the Florida Statues, must be allocated by the SGA. These new policies raise the possibility of the advisers deciding the allocations, in contradiction of the law. Another possibility with the campus life policies used as the legal basis for the move, is that the votes of the student trustee in the Board of Trustees be decided by university officials, rendering the point of having a student trustees as moot.

Pawlitics has reached out to Speaker Castro on his position regarding these moves and whether he intends to carry the directives out or will present a challenge and will update this story with his response should he provide one. In his response, Castro indicated that the “advisers are cc’d on every email that has the agenda, minutes and legislation (appropriations, resolutions, bills) attached to it” and that that has been a tradition started since the tenure of former Speaker Kristen Robillard.

In response to questions regarding the legality of the advisers’ actions, the Speaker said he believes SGA does approve internal procedures, and mentions that the advisers have pointed to the recently enacted Campus Life Policies document as the source of their authority, while also claiming that the SGA isn’t immune to the university’s policies and procedures.

To verify the legality of the documents which university officials claim provide them with the authority to intervene in the SGA’s internal affairs, the Speaker has said he has independently sent them for legal review to an attorney.

As to the Resolution in support of implementing the actual Elections Code as passed by the Senate and duly enacted into law, Castro has said he would allow the resolution to continue, and had not received any order to the contrary from the advisers. In the Senate meeting of April 1, the Senate did indeed hear not only the resolution, which it later stroke from consideration, but also an appropriation the advisers had deemed not permissible to be on the agenda. Castro said he will continue to perform his duties and encourage a conversation in the Senate.

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FIU Department of Campus Life makes power grab, seeks to control SGA

BY William-Jose Velez

The Florida International University Department of Campus Life has made a power grab for the total control of the Student Government Association and its agencies. The move was brought into light after Student Government Council - Modesto A. Maidique Campus Vice President Alex Castro filed a writ of certiorari with the SGC-MMC Supreme Court seeking to have the Elections Board enforce the current Elections Code as last reformed by the Senate during the Fall 2012 semester. Several candidates noticed that in the information sessions the Elections Board arranged, an out of date Elections Code was being provided and cited by the board, despite the changes enacted last semester. This prompted Attorney General Richard Moran to contact Elections Commissioner Charles Peretti asking him to “enforce the NEW elections code because that is the law under FIU.” 

As a response to the writ and to Moran’s email, Peretti sent an email to Chief Justice Sebastian Larrazabal in which he stated that in an effort to expedite the court’s consideration on whether to hear the case, he was providing two documents that he alleged justified the Elections Board’s actions in ignoring the laws passed by the senate. The first document is a university policy which states that internal procedures of the SGA shall be approved by the Board of Trustees of FIU. Since the BOT has not approved the latest elections code reforms, Peretti argues that this invalidates them. The second document is an undated document, characterized by Peretti as “official university policy”, which lays out the policies of the Department of Campus Life, stipulating as Peretti cites in the email, that advisers “reserve the right to make all final decisions concerning the council, agency and/or bureau.” This provision, according to Peretti, provides the SGA advisers with the authority to order and dictate SGA policy, contrary to what the Attorney General had indicated in his email.

 

THE LAW

The issue at hand brings into the spotlight the question of how much power the university and its staff actually have over the Student Government Association. While originally established by the Board of Trustees, the SGA actually derives its powers from state law, specifically Florida Statute Section 1004.26, which establishes the structure, powers and role of student governments in state universities. The law does not provide for the approval of internal procedures by the BOT, nor for the absolute authority by advisers or other university officials. This would suggest that the FIU BOT policy requiring SGA’s internal procedures to be approved by the BOT, approved in 2002, is in conflict with state law.

Another issue arising with Peretti’s claims is the fact that the Board of Trustees has never even considered the SGA’s internal procedures for their approval. Pawlitics conducted an investigation of the board’s minutes for the last 10 years, and not once since 2003, have SGA internal procedures been up for approval. In fact the only mentions SGA receives in all 10 years of minutes is the welcoming of new presidents and mentions of SGA’s approval of fee increases. This fact effectively undercuts the commissioner’s argument, since that means no elections code has been approved by the BOT, not the old or new one, effectively rendering the Elections Board decision to enforce the old as an arbitrary choice based on a selective enforcement of the university’s policies by the Division of Student Affairs and the Department of Campus Life. In addition, it appears to be a flagrant violation of the SGA Constitution, SGC-MMC Statutes as well as the Fall 2010 Williams v. Elections Code Supreme Court decision in which it was determined that the Elections Board lacks the constitutional authority to make new laws, as they are doing by selecting which law or parts of the law to enforce and follow.

 

CAMPUS LIFE’S ROLE

The Department of Campus Life, currently under the direction of Interim Director Jose Toscano, who also serves as an SGA adviser, seems to be having the leading role in this controversy. By directing the Elections Board to choose to follow an old elections code, or even a hybrid of the new and old elections code, Toscano and SGA adviser Michele Castro seem to be overstepping their roles and directly conducting processes reserved for SGA officials as established by Florida Statutes. While Peretti calls the campus life policies document which allegedly provides Toscano and Castro with the power to dictate policy, as official university policy, the fact is the document does not appear on the university’s official policies database and lacks the formatting OUPs have. It is unclear when these campus life policies were written, but the use of the words bureaus and agencies, names only enacted during the 2011-2012 term, suggests these are recent policies.

The possible timetable of events, coupled with Toscano’s troubled history as adviser, constitute a subtle but deliberate power grab on behalf of the Department of Campus Life to completely control SGA and its affairs.

This controversy regarding the university’s role inside SGA’s internal affairs stems back to last year’s elections, and even further to Toscano’s handling of adviser responsibilities. In April of 2012, then Vice President of Student Affairs Rosa Jones opened the door to the university openly intervening in SGA affairs in subversion of state law, by reverting a Supreme Court decision and effectively appointing Laura Fariñas as SGC-MMC President, despite fraudulent elections. That action constituted the first official and open move by university officials to control SGA, but it followed years of subtle attempts to do the same by Toscano, often in defiance of university rules.

THE HISTORY

In October of 2010, in a much publicized incident at the SGA Intern’s Retreat, Jose Toscano in his capacity as SGA adviser, sought to punish certain students for violating a nonexistent university policy regarding leaving a university function, by seeking to remove their pay as SGA officials. The move was stopped by the university’s Human Resources department since it violated state law. On a related incident, Toscano was involved in asking Senate leadership to resign based on the same nonexistent policy. The now interim director has also been known to tell SGA Senators that he had the power to remove them from office without reason or process, a statement in clear violation of state law, which establishes that to do so, SGA’s internal procedures must be followed, but one that now appears to be validated by the new Campus Life policies.

If the new rules were enacted by Toscano as Interim Director, it would be a continuation of the pattern of behavior previously noted, which is especially noticeable during elections. Because of the time consuming and sensitive nature of the elections process, involvement of the university staff is significant, and Election Commissioners tend to follow their advice without question, even when state law is clear in the powers it gives the SGA, a tradition now followed by Peretti.

THE IMPLICATIONS

Following the precedent established by Rosa Jones in appointing Fariñas, and now by Toscano in enacting rules giving him and other advisers supreme control over student funded entities, the autonomy and role of SGA could be fundamentally altered. Legally speaking, SGA allocates and approves the budget of the Activity & Service Fee fund, which funds all of campus life’s operations, the student centers, recreation centers and student organizations. If university officials are allowed to continue interfering in SGA affairs without due cause, and often in violation of state laws and university rules, the very point of a student government is defeated, with every action taken by it proven to be an exercise in futility. This string of actions opens the door to the administration directly allocating the budget of the A&S Fee, a power they legally do not have, especially when SGA officials are not standing up and questioning these moves, and in some cases, owe their positions to administrative involvement.

This turn of events seems odd in a university that describes itself as student centered, but the inaction of the BOT or President’s office in these issues portrays an FIU more interested in retaining absolute control over SGA and its $12.5 million budget than in following the law, its internal procedures, or its own pledges of believing in the capacity and quality of its own students.

In the meantime, the elections process continues under a Commissioner counseled by advisers who “…would prefer to focus on the timely execution of this year’s elections to the benefit of the Panther student body…”, perhaps even in contempt of the laws of that very same Student Body.

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SGC-MMC Supreme Court grants certiorari on Castro v. Fariñas, will hear case March 18

In an email to the Student Government Council - Modesto A. Maidique Campus Vice President Alex Castro and former Housing Senator Dean Williams, Supreme Court Chief Justice Sebastian Larrazabal informed the two petitioners in the case against administration appointed President Laura Fariñas and Senator Vanessa Martinez that the court has decided to grant certiorari. Granting certiorari is not a judgement on the claims of the case but rather just the willingness of the court to hear the case. In the email Chief Justice Larrazabal explains the reasoning behind the court’s decision to hear the case on March 18, 2013, more than a month after the writ of certiorari was filed, due to several limitations such as Spring Break and the ongoing Budget hearings.

The court also reviewed the petitioner’s special requests, denying all but one, specifically the request for submission of amici curiae. The other requests involved Larrazabal’s recusal, the non-implication of FIUnite, the party of which Williams is Chairman, a request for review of evidence before the hearing, the use of Williams as an authority on the intent of the laws mentioned and a request for a subpoena of records.

Once the hearing is held, the Court will then deliberate and have ten business days to issue a ruling that could remove Fariñas and Martinez from office. 

The case continues to be a point of controversy in the current administration. Fariñas’ only expressions to date were in a response to The Beacon where she states that “I am disappointed that Vice President Castro did not bring these claims to my attention in September but instead, spent valuable time writing a 90 page writ regarding purchases of $120 that were signed off by University Officials and ultimately given to students. This is a poor use of his time as Vice President and an FIU student leader (sic) and I think that he should reconsider and re-prioritize where his time and efforts are going.” 

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Writ of Certiorari Filed against SGC-MMC President Laura Fariñas

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Student Government Council - Modesto A. Maidique Campus Vice President Alex Castro and former Director of Governmental Relations Dean Williams have filed a writ of certiorari before the SGC-MMC Supreme Court upon a grievance asking for the removal of appointed President Laura Fariñas and Senator Vanessa Martinez due to charges of nonfeasance,misfeasance and malfeasance of duties. Specifically the charges surround the circumstances regarding the position of the Comptroller, previously held by Valeria Espina. Espina resigned in unclear circumstances last November, and the position had remained vacant until recently. 

In an email sent Friday February 15 at 4:58pm to Chief Justice Sebastian Larrazabal, Castro submitted the writ along with documentation supporting his case against Fariñas and Senator Martinez, in her role as chair of the Senate’s Internal Affairs Committee. 

THE ALLEGATIONS

The case against Fariñas and Martinez focuses first on the management of Activity & Service fee funds upon the absence of the comptroller, based on several provisions from the Student Government Association Finance Code. Among the claims are allegations of failure to follow proper procedures for the approval of budgets for each line item in the current A&S fee budget, failure to follow proper procedures for the disbursements of A&S fee funds, failure to report on the status of the government’s finances, failure to provide the legally mandated seminars to student organizations on A&S fee fund management among others. Combined, Castro and Williams present 8 violations of Florida Law, SGA’s Constitution, SGA’s Finance Code and the SGC-MMC Statutes. 

For Fariñas, the nature of the allegations stems from the absence of a Comptroller, and an alleged failure on her behalf to ensure the proper following of the several provisions of law. The petitioners stipulate that taken together, all violations constitute mismanagement of A&S fee funds, one of the main roles of the Student Government Association. Based on these allegations, Fariñas removal from office is requested based on what the petitioners see if the necessary and requisite foundation of several acts of nonfeasance, misfeasance and malfeasance committed by the president. In Martinez’ case, the allegations stem from her alleged failure to appropriately hold the executive branch of the government accountable, in regards to having public documents readily accessible. In the supporting documentation submitted by Castro is a chain of emails between him and Martinez, in which Castro requests a series of documents. After requesting a time extension Martinez replied and sent part of the documents requested. The missing documents form part of the claim against Martinez, in what is described as “failing to maintain adequate public records.”

Should the court grant certiorari and hear the case, Fariñas and Martinez would have to present evidence of their compliance with the reference laws, which would amount to proof that they followed all proper procedures as legally required, if such documents exist.

THE EVIDENCE

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The 17 page writ is accompanied by a 37 page pdf file of evidence compiled by the petitioners which includes emails requesting public records, emails between Castro and Fariñas, Senate compliance documents, Council for Student Organizations agendas and minutes, as well as several expenditure forms showing the lack of the Comptroller’s (or President’s) signature.

As part of the documents, there are several tense email exchanges between Castro and Fariñas, with the vice president claiming three attempts to get the president to assign him official duties in the administration. The at times awkward exchanges go in line with what has been perceived mid-Fall semester as the fall out between the two former running mates, through a series of events including Fariñas efforts against Castro’s scholarship proposal, as well as Fariñas’ firing of her former campaign manager and former chief of staff Philip Koenig.

The evidence presents a stark picture in terms of the day to day administration of the Activity & Service fee fund in the offices of the Student Government Association. While the usage and expenditure of the fund is monitored by Campus Life Advisers as well as by the Activity & Service Business Office of the Division of Student Affairs, these two entities tend to overlook SGA law and focus on university regulations. Should the allegations bear true, it would imply that proper records are not being kept, student funds are being disbursed without the proper signatures, and there aren’t proper accountability mechanisms in place.

ON THE COMPTROLLER

The issues surrounding the comptroller position started back in November 2012 following the resignation of Espina. Sources tell Pawlitics that the resignation happened quietly and an official announcement did not happen for weeks. During this period of vacancy, Pawlitics was unable to find any evidence of the executive branch promoting the vacancy through its website. On its Facebook page there is one post from January 9, 2013 alluding to open positions, but as publishing time the link provided did not list any positions and had been presumably changed since then. When asked if the vacant position had been promoted, Castro responded by saying that “the applications were not well promoted because the position is being used as a political weapon by the President.” 

This response was prompted following the rejected nomination of Daniel Gomez as Comptroller during the January 21, 2013 Senate meeting. Gomez was Fariñas’ choice for the position out of a total 4 possible applicants. The Senate however decided to reject the nomination. Senate Speaker Giovanni Castro for instance told Pawlitics he believed “that the senate wanted someone a bit more qualified due to the closeness towards budget dates.” Gomez had previously served a brief stint on Fariñas cabinet as head of Panther Rage, the spirit group. Following Gomez’ rejection by the Senate, Fariñas nominated her then Chief of Staff Freddy Juarez, who was afterward promptly confirmed by the Senate. Juarez is not mentioned and is not a part of the writ brought on by Castro and Williams. 

These incidents confirm the tension inside the Fariñas administration which has come to light during Senate meetings with public disagreements between the president and the vice president, a stark difference from just a few months earlier when Fariñas and Castro ran on the same ticket through the scandal plagued 2012 SGA Elections.

THE GRIEVANCE

The grievance as filed, extensively covers all possible contention points, and seems to go beyond that by including issues such as the possible consequences of a ruling in favor of the petitioners and the involvement of the new FIUnited party of which Castro is a presumptive presidential candidate, and Williams its founding chairman. Should the court side with the petitioners and remove Fariñas, Castro, per Article IV Section 5 of the SGA Constitution, would assume the presidency and have the subsequent power of appointing a Vice President. Another topic covered in the grievance is the extent to which Castro himself could be held liable of the accusations being made, seemingly to preempt any argument made by the defendants. Castro and Williams content that as Vice President, Castro has fulfilled all of his constitutional and legal responsibilities, and even requested to assist with the issues at hand but was rebuffed. 

The writ of certiorari also argues against the possibility of having the Campus Life advisers being implicated in any mismanagement of the A&S fee fund. They argue that for the advisers to fulfill their role, the President and the other appropriate officials must have fulfilled their respective responsibilities before the blame could be shifted elsewhere. The inclusion of such an argument is peculiar, since as university employees outside of the Student Government Association, the Supreme Court would lack jurisdiction over the advisers.

Whether the advisers would take part in a hearing of this case is unclear since the court has not indicated whether it will hear the case. 

RECUSAL OF THE CHIEF JUSTICE

The petitioners also make a special request for the recusal of the Chief Justice based on two factors, namely their doubt that he could be impartial and what the petitioners deem as the “general failure to ensure the proper administration and operation of the Court.” The impartiality doubts stem from the fact that in Fall of 2012 a writ was filed against Martinez, and the court denied certiorari, refusing to hear the case, a decision the petitioners contend was wrong, and may have been due to what they call a social greek relationship between Martinez and Larrazabal. An online search shows that Larrazabal is what is known in greek circles as Martinez’ “big brother”, which is “an active member of a fraternity or sorority who serves as a mentor to a new member, guiding him or her through the new member program and initiation.” The second charge against Larrazabal is then based on the fact that Castro had previously submitted a writ of certiorari which did not receive a response from the court within the legally established period. Whether the court will accept this request is unknown until they respond to the writ itself.

The writ is completed with a series of requests, including one for a subpoena of records, that seeks to ensure the availability of all relevant evidence. Castro and Williams explain that the request is made because of their uncertainty, despite their best efforts, that all documents were made available to them. 

As of publishing time, there is no response from the court, which according to SGC-MMC Statutes, must respond within 10 days to the petitioners. Once that occurs, and if the court grants certiorari, a hearing date would be set in which the petitioners would present their case and evidence, and the defendants, Fariñas and Martinez would also do the same. 

The court’s ruling could have a significant effect on the 2013 SGA Presidential race, with Castro already a declared contender, and Martinez mentioned as a possible adversary. An adverse ruling could also put a halt to the 2013-2014 budget approval hearings, currently underway.

If heard, this would be the Supreme Court’s first case this term, one that could significantly alter the political landscape in the upcoming elections, a possibility that seems to be becoming the norm at FIU.